After being on the receiving end of stern words from President Biden last month, Facebook says it has removed three-dozen pages and accounts associated with a dozen previously identified superspreaders of vaccine misinformation.
The White House and various political figures have repeatedly cited a March report from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) that suggested that 12 individuals were responsible for spreading 60% of the vaccine misinformation currently on social media. By allowing this misinformation to remain and proliferate, Biden said in July, Facebook was effectively "killing people."
Biden later walked back that statement, but he said, "My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally, that somehow I’m saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine. That's what I meant."
Facebook was initially defensive, with a spokesperson saying, "We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts. The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet."
But, here are a month later, and Facebook is touting the fact that it has now removed accounts and pages associated with those same 12 misinformation spreaders highlighted in the CCDH report.
"In recent weeks, there has been a debate about whether the global problem of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation can be solved simply by removing 12 people from social media platforms," writes Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of content policy. "People who have advanced this narrative contend that these 12 people are responsible for 73% of online vaccine misinformation on Facebook. There isn’t any evidence to support this claim."
Still... they've gone ahead and removed the pages and penalized the accounts, and furthermore the company has "applied penalties to some of their website domains as well so any posts including their website content are moved lower in News Feed."
But please do continue to read Bickert's pushback:
Focusing on these 12 individuals misses the forest for the trees. We have worked closely with leading health organizations since January 2020 to identify and remove COVID-19 misinformation that could contribute to a risk of someone spreading or contracting the virus. Since the beginning of the pandemic across our entire platform, we have removed over 3,000 accounts, Pages and groups for repeatedly violating our rules against spreading COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation and removed more than 20 million pieces of content for breaking these rules.
And thus (maybe) ends the latest mini conflict between Washington and Facebook.